More noise than signal

Diamonds Are Forever

I believe I made my opinions regarding On Her Majesty’s Secret Service reasonably clear in my last scrivvenings, but it should be noted that at the time of its release it wasn’t exactly regarded as the colossal disaster that I think that it is. Sure, it didn’t make quite as much money as the previous Connery outing, but there didn’t seem to be a pressing economic need for Diamonds Are Forever to run away screaming back to the comforting formulas that OHMSS deviated from.

That said, naturally I am positively overjoyed that they did. George Lazenby apparently feared becoming typecast and departed the franchise, to the disappointment of nobody, and the Broccolis backed up a lorry load of hundred dollar bills into Sean Connery’s garage to convince him to return for one last stint. Well, last apart from another controversial side note that I’ll suppose get to in due course.

It seems Bond’s still upset about his short-lived marriage, tracking down and killing Blofeld before the credits even roll. Well, that was easy, although you think he might have passed comment that he’s yet again morphed between films, now looking much less Telly Savalas-y and a lot more like Henderson from You Only Live Twice. Charles Gray’s introduction to the role at least has the courtesy to mention plastic surgery as a get-out clause, and I trust I’m not introducing any major spoilers or surprises in saying that this is not the last we’ll see of him in this film.

With the series’ recurring bogeyman apparently dealt with, Bond is told to return to far more mundane matters. He’s sent on the trail of a diamond smuggling operation that’s worrying the government, in the main because the gems are not appearing on the market. Someone’s hoarding them, and nefariosity is assumed. Despite Bond thinking all this is a little beneath him, a routine jaunt to Amsterdam turns into a mission to Las Vegas, with the seeming involvement of reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. Sorry, Willard Whyte, played by country singer Jimmy Dean.

Of course, as I’ve already helpfully ruined in advance, it’s actually Blofeld who’s behind everything, kidnapping Whyte and using his business empire as a front for his evil scheming. This time round he’s brought his very own mad professor, creating a stupendously powerful orbital diamond focused laser satellite do-hickey. He’s using it to destroy the nuclear capacities of the major powers, apart, naturally from the one who gives him the most money.

Blofeld, and by extension SMERSH, have provided a continual source of puzzlement to me throughout their endeavours. It’s always been about collecting money from governments, which is understandable to a degree. After all, money is useful, so more money would logically be more useful. However, the means by which they choose to extort money, well, don’t seem cost effective. I’m not saying that I’m not impressed by their scope or vision, but I’m unsure as to what cost-benefit analysis allows for launching a diamond encrusted satellite into space in order to extort a few million dollars.

Perhaps SMERSH would have been better hiring an accountant rather than a scientist. I’m all for speculating to accumulate, but the return on investment for this project hardly seems worth it. If you’ve got the means to do something like this, perhaps you’ve already got enough money and could instead retire somewhere nice, and maybe take up gardening. Or at the very least, go balls-out power-mad and shoot for world domination. Just asking for cash seems petty and vulgar, somehow.

Diamonds Are Forever certainly cannot be described with a straight face as being the best Bond film in the franchise. I think I could make a decent case, however, for it being the most fun Bond film in the franchise. It’s the only film in the series (at least that I recall – the Moore Era tends to mulch together in my mind) that has some level of awareness of what the institution has become, and how after Goldfinger it’s only ever just been on the sensible side of a self-parody.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I’m reliably informed. This seems to have been the rationale for the script to go bananas. It’s not as if the plot, investigations or characters of Diamonds Are Forever are any less believable than in, say, Thunderball. While Connery doesn’t exactly wink at the camera in this film, the whole film feels like it is somehow winking continually. What other reason would there be for the inclusion of a scene to show us an elephant winning on the slot machines?

As a film, Diamond Are Forever could so easily have fallen flat on its face. I’m sure there are people who think that it has, and I’m not altogether dismissive of their opinions. Certainly, if you wanted a stone cold spy classic, this is too silly for you, although arguably everything since Goldfinger was also. If you’ve been tricked by Shirley Bassey’s belting out of another iconic Bond theme song into thinking that this fits comfortably into the Bond film formula (and why wouldn’t you?), Diamonds Are Forever is unlikely to meet your expectations, at least from the moment after Bond gets to Vegas.

While the initial investigations into the ‘mere’ diamond smuggling is, I’d argue, as good as any serious piece of Bond sleuthing in the series, he’s hardly landed Stateside before he’s barging past people in spacesuits inexplicably moving in slow motion to hijack a moon buggy, escaping from a shower of goons on trikes.

There will be people who do not think that escaping from a shower of goons on trikes in a hijacked moon buggy is not a purely awesome work of surrealist genius for the World’s Best Secret Agent to be doing. I understand their point, and reject it fully. If you think that a moon buggy is any less ridiculous a mode of transport than an Aston Martin with ejector seats, rocket launchers and buzzsaws then you’re deluding yourself.

Well, okay, it is pretty ridiculous. But it’s a lot of fun.

Which applies to damn near the whole film. The uber-camp ‘top assassins’, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, are extraordinarily ridiculous, stealing Bond’s gimmick of one-liner kiss-off lines and hammering it into the ground with ruthless abandon. They near-immediately go from mildly creepy to wildly silly, and hardly present a credible, dramatic threat.

Which, again, applies to the film as a whole. Until Austin Powers arrived decades later, this was as close to a decent Bond parody as existed. Incidentally, the 1966 version of Casino Royale certainly does not count as a decent Bond parody. Even Blofeld is more playful, stealing most of the film’s best lines, and Jimmy Dean’s likeable Willard Whyte is an over the top presence that comes close to overshadowing Connery.

Whether this is Connery’s weakest performance as Bond or merely the one in which he is given the least to do is up for debate, but I’d perhaps go with the latter. Despite starting to look a shade too old for this sort of thing, Connery provides some memorable moments, from the close quarters elevator fight sequence to his casual pose riding on top of an external hotel elevator, even to accusing a rat of smelling like a tart’s handkerchief. There’s plenty of moments to like, but I suspect because they are part of a film that only barely ‘feels’ like it fits into the Bond franchise they’re easy to ignore and focus on the more left-field and, to some, risible, elements of the film.

Admittedly, were I in the market for watching a classic Bond film, this is going to be above only Thunderball in the Connery era. This is just a little too out-there for it’s own good, but damned if I don’t find it massively enjoyable. It’s certainly far more interesting a watch than the badly-aged Thunderball, and I’d choose it over, I believe, all of Moore’s stint as Bond, which I see in the corner of my eye, ready to pounce. Prepare yourself accordingly.